Just how should one spend a Sunday evening in December when the need to lift spirits is as great as ever, but the annual round of Messiahs and Christmas Oratorios has not yet started in such earnest as to put everyone in the festive mood? The answer was provided by the Allegri Quartet at King’s Place who went ‘back to basics’ in presenting two quartets and a quintet that could not fail to move with their sheer brilliance, irrespective of the time of year.
A short introduction at the start of the evening explained that a Haydn quartet will often be used as a simple starter to a programme, but that if any deserved to be appreciated as a substantial piece in its own right it was his String Quartet in C, Op. 54, No. 2 of 1788. So it proved as the opening Vivace and C minor Adagio revealed some consummate playing from the first violin, Martyn Jackson, while the Finale saw the deliberate element of surprise maintained in the way in which the central Presto was framed by the two surrounding Adagios.
While Mendelssohn’s first two quartets descend from Beethoven’s late quartets, and the next three were written during happy times for the composer, his final String Quartet No. 6 in F minor, Op. 80 (1847) is markedly different from the rest. It was written as a lament for his sister Fanny who died in May 1847 (as it turned out, only six months before Felix himself), but it does not so much ooze sorrow as anger. The sense of agitation was played out strongly from start to finish, although perhaps a little too much, as it felt somewhat unrelenting when Mendelssohn did still create space for variations in mood.
For example, the feeling of urgency in the Allegro Assai was tangible, but masked any sense of playfulness in the movement, which it is important to bring out as well, even if the element is introduced as something that can so easily be swept away. Nevertheless, the standard of playing was extremely high, and the synergies and contrasts between the Adagio and Finale (the third and fourth movements) were drawn out convincingly.
After the interval the Allegri Quartet was joined by Martin Roscoe to play Elgar’s Piano Quintet in A minor, Op. 84 (1918-19). Particularly impressive were the interaction between the bowed and pizzicato elements in the ‘Spanish’ section of the second movement, Dorothea Vogel’s rendering of the viola melody in the third, and the sense of verve achieved in the A major conclusion. More important still, however, was the way in which all five performers enabled the piece to hang together as a whole. Roscoe generated a distinctive tone but one that worked effectively with the quartet of strings as if both were generating their own ‘spheres’ of sound, only ones that ‘overlapped’ seamlessly with each other.
For details of all of the Allegri Quartet’s recordings and upcoming events visit the designated website.